Cutting, or in other words film editing, is how shots are organized in sequence. In a video production, much more footage is being shot than used in the actual video. So the film editor’s task – or in this case your task as the director, the producer, the editor, the cameraman and the storyboard artist since assumably you won’t have a camera crew – is to pick up carefully the shots that are going be used in the final product and eliminate the rest. It is important to create a series of shots that flow naturally into each other, if the audience is jarred with the consecutive shots that don’t follow each other naturally, they are unlikely to follow or be affected by the film. So in a way, Cutting and Continuity which we covered in the previous chapter goes hand in hand. Joseph V. Mascelli, who we are basing our 5 C’s of Cinematography study on, compares film editing with cutting, polishing and mounting a diamond. ‘A diamond in rough state is unrecognizable just like the film’ he states, ‘and both diamond and the film are enhanced by what is removed’.
Again, keep in mind that these chapters are being taught much more detailed and longer in the film schools and we are just taking a glimpse to be conscious about what we are going to deal with if we ever going to produce a video or draw storyboards of one.
The types of cutting can roughly be divided into two : Continuity Cutting and Compilation Cutting. In the first one, the storytelling is based on matching consecutive scenes, whereas in the second one, it is the narration what depicts the scenes. Since these articles are about cinematic storytelling, we’ll focus on continuity cutting more.
So why do we need cutting? Pretty simple, we don’t have all the time in the world that’s why. We have to avoid monotone, keep up the tension all the time, and tell what we want to tell in the simplest manner possible. Let’s say we have a sequence where our character is running down the stairs and the whole action would take 15 seconds. We want to show that the action is completed in that scene, but we only have 5 seconds for that sequence. So we can either,
– Use match-cuts : This is the technique where the primary thing to look for is the flow of action. The moving elements of the different shots should match one after the other, so that the flow of the action would not be interrupted. So in our example, let’s say we’re shooting the stairs scene in 3 shots, we can use : 1- a shot of the character from the distance, starting the action, 2- a close-up on his feet running down the stairs , 3-another shot of him at the bottom of the stairs, continuing his movement. What we have to look out for is that there shouldn’t be any gaps of the action between the shots – if he ends the first shot with his right foot raised, the second shot must start with the same foot in same position (but half way down the stairs this time, let’s say).
Match-cuts don’t necessarily have to be used with only one subject as it was in this example. It can be used with two different subjects – the only thing that matters is the action. Here, take a closer look on probably the most famous use of match cut in the movie history and you’ll understand better what I’ve just tried to explain :
(2001 A Space Odyssey, 1968, Stanley Kubrick)
Or this fabulous ending scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece North by Northwest (spoiler ahead, DO NOT WATCH if you haven’t seen the movie and planning to see it) :
(North by Northwest, 1959, Alfred Hitchcock)
– Use jump-cuts : This occurs when a mis-match caused by change in body position or a switch in directional look happens. Not as often used as match-cuts or cut-aways, but it is there. So back to our example, we’ll have three shots of our subject running down the stairs, in which everytime he’d be in a different position, and there would be no consistence of the action he’s executing.
Take a look at this scene and examine the jump-cuts from À Bout de Souffle (Breathless) of the genius French filmmaker Jean Luc Godard.
(À Bout de Souffle, 1960, Jean Luc Godard)
– Or use cut-aways : Cut-aways are basically the secondary shots that are placed between the shots showing the action – sort of like a distraction from the action. They don’t need to match the previous scene, since they are not a part of the main action flow. These cut-aways can be the footage of another character, another camera angle etc. – they are indirectly related to the main action. In our example, let’s say 1- a long shot of the character, starting his action on the top of the stairs, 2- a shot of someone else on the ground, looking up at the character, 3- again a shot of our main character completing the action.
Check out this good example of cut-aways :
This type of cutting is used mostly in documentarial films like newsreels, history documentaries etc., because of the animated snapshot nature of the visuals that are used in the film. These visuals are connected through continuous narration. So a matching in the action, or the flow of the action is not necessarily needed, as long as the narration and visuals go hand in hand. For example, during a footage of WWII, if the narrator starts mentioning let’s say a propaganda speech of Hitler, a footage of him during the speech may be shown regardless of its matching with the previous scene.
Cross-cuting serves fairly as a good trick of telling two or more parallel actions happening at the same time. These actions may or may not have a hierarchy of importance, they may both regarded as main actions. Christopher Nolan uses this trick a lot in his movies, especially in the 3rd act where the tension hits the peak level. Check out this brilliant cross-cutting scene of the renowned director.
(Inception, 2010, Christopher Nolan)
And one personal suggestion since we’re all into cutting this month, I strongly recommend The Fall by Tarsem Singh (2006), if you want to see a top class editing, breathtaking shots and an unbelievable cinematography. The story goes back and forth between a made up story and real life in 1920s California, and a lot of brilliant match-cutting slowly smears the thin line between real and the fiction thanks to a little girl’s imagination. I can’t stress this enough : watch it ONLY in high definition.
Finishing the 5 C’s of Cinematography with Close-Ups on the next Youngsday!
Image source: Flickr